Thursday, July 8, 2010
The Wheel Inn, Old and New, Sedalia, Missouri
UPDATE MAY 18, 2014: WE WERE IN SEDALIA YESTERDAY, WHEELED IN TO THE WHEEL INN, AND DISCOVERED THE PLACE IS FOR SALE. APPARENTLY THEY'VE CLOSED. WHAT A SAD THING! As of May 18, 2014, this post, now, amounts to a memorial page for the Wheel Inn.
Yes, the Wheel Inn lives on, and these days it’s right across the road from the Missouri State Fair. (You are going to the fair, right? August 12–22—you can’t miss it! Seriously, it is a good time, and in addition to meeting some talkative politicians, you’ll walk away with a bag full of free stuff. You might even get a free flyswatter!)
But the Wheel Inn, ahhh, the Wheel Inn. Venerable, beloved, local landmark that was destroyed when MoDot widened the intersection of Highways 50 and 65, the major arteries that fed the Wheel Inn’s first six decades of existence. Memories.
By September 2007, when the Wheel Inn closed its doors and auctioned off bits and pieces of its original, vintage signage and architecture, it had gotten dang difficult to “wheel in” to the Wheel Inn—at that busy intersection, we usually had to pull in and out of parking lots of adjacent businesses. And the parking lot had gotten tiny; easier with my Civic, but tricky with the truck. Highway expansion; lots of traffic.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more genuinely intact vintage drive-in that was so virtually unchanged since the 1940s. But it’s gone now. (Couldn't they have moved it? Alas.)
We were among the throngs of true devotees who visited the Wheel Inn during its last few weeks in business. Below are some pictures from that time (September 2007), including our last guberburger meal. Awww, dang it. What a cool place.
. . . But change happens. It could easily have been a tornado, you know? Or a fire! (Remember the original Old Heidelberg in Columbia? They had to completely rebuild—and it’s not the same—but that’s the way it goes. We love it still.) And this way, with the Wheel Inn, we all got a chance to say goodbye, and they could sell off mementoes to their biggest fans.
~ ~ But the Wheel Inn Lives! ~ ~
I had heard that there was a “new” Wheel Inn in Sedalia, a little farther south on Highway 65, and right across from the State Fairgrounds. To be honest, I was skeptical, and that was one reason I stayed away so long: “Who are you, and what makes you think you can replicate the Wheel Inn?” It seemed almost blasphemous. Sputter, sputter, sputter!
But even though the vintage architecture was a real treat and we miss it a lot, a business is much more than its building. And yes, the Wheel Inn tradition continues.
I’m pretty sure this is only the third set of owners; the first owners, Lyman Keuper and his wife, bequeathed the Wheel Inn to their daughter and son-in-law, Ruth Ann and Jack Hawkins, who owned the Wheel Inn until the building’s demise in 2007. John Brandkamp, who owned the business, sold the Wheel Inn name, recipes, and reputation to the current owner, Judy Clark, who had worked at the Wheel Inn off and on for forty-seven years.
And so the new Wheel Inn continues with the blessing of the old owners. The rest of the pictures in this post are of the new place.
I do hope they can find a talented artist to paint a new Guber-man on their windows; their current Guber-guys look really, um, computer-generated. Oh well.
They have a lot more seating, plus plenty of parking places! I’m not sure it’s much of a “drive in” anymore, but they have a big U-shaped service counter like the old place, they’ve stuck with the red-and-white color scheme and a retro “look,” and the recipes are all the same. Hallelujah!
There are a few new items on the menu—a fried chicken salad, for instance, and a couple of “big” burgers (the “Wheel Burger” has double cheese, double meat, plus the fixin’s; the “Whimpy Burger” has triple meat and triple cheese, which I think you should avoid, unless you want a triple bypass, too).
And stuff’s gone up. Prices are higher—but then that’s the way things go. It’s still very reasonable, and you can buy food here with the change on the floor under your car seat.
No kiddin’. You can get a grilled cheese sandwich for $2.25 (two slices of cheese!) or an egg sandwich for $2.50. I bet you’ve put more than that into a big-city parking meter. The most expensive thing on the menu is “Chicken BB” for $6.10. I don’t know what that is, and anyway, you probably came here to try something else. Right?
Yes. The pièce de résistance is the famous guberburger, the steakburger with peanut butter on it. Now, this is living.
I know what you’re going to say, but before you decide I’ve lost my mind, I urge you to try one first. They use a thin patty of fresh lean chuck, top it with hot melted peanut butter, and add lettuce, tomato, and salad dressing (Miracle Whip).
The Wheel Inn is where it all began. Here’s how it happened.
Back in 1946, Lyman Keuper, the owner of the Wheel Inn, was approached by a fellow who was impressed by his curly fries (they’re called Soozie-Q Fries, by the way). They are really, really curly, and they’re thin. They’re fun to eat, and they look great.
So this fellow proposed a trade: You tell me how you make Soozie-Q fries, and I’ll give you the secret for making the best burgers ever—irresistibly delicious burgers that will make your business a sure success. . . . And the deal was made.
The guberburger became the Wheel Inn’s specialty, beloved by generations of Missourians headed to the state fair, or Kansas Citians on their way to the Lake, bikers, or any number of other folks passing through on the two highways. And they were all telling their friends, “You’ve gotta try it to believe it. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really good!”
Now—you can get “guberburgers” elsewhere in Sedalia, like Eddie’s Drive In (which we also love), but my waiter the other day assured me that there is a secret ingredient (besides the peanut butter) used in Wheel Inn’s guberburgers that makes them unique, and extra delicious. So go there, my friends, and enjoy the Real Thing.
The moral of this story is, Change happens. But if you’re lucky, the stuff that really matters, like the Original Guberburger, continues on.
(Oh, and make sure you get the Soozie-Q fries with your guberburger!)